Guest post by Marianne M. Pelletier, Director of Advancement Research and Data Support, Cornell University
In my present job, I deal with a whole lot of data – over 2,000 fields of data on gifts, names, addresses, relationships, segmenting codes, dates, attributes, interests, contacts, you name it. Yet getting to play in this playground as a donor modeler only leaves me lusting for other kinds of data to play with, so much that my hobbies often lead me to places where data lives so I can fool with it. This short article is my wish list, whether or not I’ll ever get to mine any of it.
Horse Races are tracked to the umpteenth degree by handicappers. Buy a copy of the Daily Racing Form and you’ll see more statistics presented than you can read in a week. DRF also has a web page where you can download even more statistics – tracking the horses’ pedigree generations back in time and the jockey’s entire career, ride by ride. So what do I do? I spend some Sundays diligently typing key statistics into a homemade database, along with the race results, to see if I can find the regression formula that would make me more money than just following the program picks. The answer? So far, on maiden sprints on dirt, the horse that had the fastest workout is most likely to win. For every other kind of race, I’m still wishing to buy the data in a format I can manipulate instead of having to type it.
Speaking of gambling, I’d give my remaining eye tooth to play in Harrah’s data. Harrah is an incredibly good marketing firm, from offering me a free weekend to their new casino in some remote place to being the only game in town that offers $10 craps all weekend long. Imagine if you will getting to download affinity player card data and tracking where a person wanders in the casino – how many mix slots with table play? How many are single game players? What if the casino moved the buffet closer to Keno? What’s the best game to put right inside the valet parking entrance? Do the longer, red craps tables make one bet more or lose more? Or play longer? What is the average time for a player at a blackjack table? What if she’s drinking alcohol? What if she’s an awards card member? What if the player is male? What if the dealer is the same gender as the player? I’d be a kid in a candy store to get a contract to work data like that.
On the other side of the coin, what is the effect of parking availability on local business? Wouldn’t it be fun to figure out the dependent variable on that? Ithaca recently changed its parking rates from the first hour free to charging for every hour. Was it that or the longstanding recession that caused local businesses to disappear? Or is the turnover normal? Would I have to study when the students are in town vs. when they are gone? Would local businesses share their profit numbers with me?
And then there’s the whole thing about the best time of year to go to Disney World. I’d want to offer Disney a study of some kind (like, which ride should go next to the Small World ride?) in order to get data on when I’m most likely to enjoy good weather, a maximum number of rides open, and the fewest number of screaming children and strollers under my feet.
And speaking of flying somewhere, I’d love for Delta to hire me to study when people want to fly somewhere. All that Expedia/Travelocity search data – does anyone use it? After all, what if airlines could arrange that people in Boston can fly midmorning but people in New York can fly at night? What if there were one extra flight at 11:00 am from somewhere that would double an airline’s traffic because of the ripple effect? I’d love to be the one who discovers that.
Lastly, who can resist wishing to forecast forex? The currency exchange market is very likely very well tested by experts, but not by me. What if I could predict the day of week and time of day that the Euro drifts off against the dollar? I’d place my bet once a week and then go off to the casino. Or Disney. Or shopping. Oh, bother! It all looks like there’s data teeming everywhere, everywhere, and I’m only going to live so long.